Lately, I’ve been thinking that rhetoric might be a good thing to learn. I’d love to see people smiling and nodding at my words for a change -not turning away.
There have been many times in my life when I have felt ignored -much of the time, actually. People often seem deaf to my opinions and unsympathetic to my goals. Of course, it’s usually a reciprocal thing, but I’m not as concerned about them as much as I am about my not being heard. There have been times, in fact, when even the plant I confide in on my porch seems to rearrange its leaves impatiently and then pretend it has some photosynthesizing to get back to. Or am I reading too much into it?
It turns out that there is far more to rhetoric than waving my arms when I talk, or raising my voice because everybody’s paying attention to someone else. Apparently it involves following a plan, and that’s what bothers me. I usually get so wrapped up in my words that I forget the point I’m arguing; it’s not a formula for success. And at my age I suppose I need to get on with it while there’s still time.
I have read that I should begin with Aristotle, although rhetoric began much earlier -somewhere in Mesopotamia maybe- but my Akkadian is a bit weak to try in public. Anyway, I kind of liked the simple three step program Aristotle outlined because, at least to my uncritical eyes, it seemed to make sense.
First, I am supposed to start my argument using Ethos (Who I am and why you should trust me); then Pathos (trying to move people’s emotions so they would see my point); and finally, Logos (presenting the reasons, evidence, and logic of my argument). The problem is that I doubt if could ever remember them in any kind of order, and rhetoric depends on little tricks like that for it to work.
Still, there is far more to it than plugging an argument into an algorithm -a lot more, in fact: the words, the rhetorical devices… Therein lies the mystery -and for me, the enchantment. I’ve always been intrigued by words, especially the lumbering uncrackable ones I have to look up -the ones I couldn’t possibly know beforehand. Rhetoric, it seems, is nothing if not word-heavy.
Some, of course, are easy: Alliteration, for example. Ever since Grade 3 in Winnipeg, I was taught to recognize it in phrases that had similar, same, sounds. ‘Big boys bat baseballs’, was a favourite example for the back row seats, I remember; and in an era unused to equality, ‘girls in groups, giggle gaily’ was one that appealed to those of us who sat in the front.
Polyptoton, however is a different animal, and one I doubt the teacher would have dared to introduce in a class that still threw things. Sounding more like a bowel disease, it would have been wasted on the young anyway. It turns out to be something they’d probably never use; coming from the Greek for ‘many cases’ it means the repeated use of a word, but with different meanings each time. I mean, it would be mean to assume that the mean of the many eight years old in my class would know enough about meanings to find it useful, let alone interesting. Mind you, I remember being accused by Linda of bumping her into her desk when the bell rang to end a class. She was really mad about it for some reason and reported it to Miss Bogul. I, of course, insisted it was an accident, although I suspect it was really a proto-flirt. At any rate, Linda objected to my excuse. “But, he butted me!” she insisted. I suppose the only reason her polyptoton even stuck with me was the little twinkle in her eyes when she looked at me the next day.
Anaphora was easier for me. It immediately caught my attention because it seemed such a memory tool. Anaphora was easy to use. Anaphora was easy to remember, and anaphora… anaphora sort of sounded like it was the word ‘amphora’, a two-handled ancient Greek urn -and a Greek urn was the subject of an ode by Keats to an anaphora I’ve now forgotten. Anyway anaphora is merely the repetition of a word in successive clauses. It can be a boring device, though -hardly likely to endear me to any audience other than, say, my dog.
But, much to my surprise, I discovered that I was already using some of the more arcane rhetorical devices without knowing the names. Take Litotes -an understatement -like when you validate something by denying its opposite. For example ‘it’s not bad’. Of course, I suppose that’s not unusual though, eh?
Or, how about congeries? They are disorderly collections of words or thoughts. You can even say lists are congeries, because they can sound awkward when they’re all jumbled together in a verbal pile. After all, lists are meant to be written down on a page, maybe enumerated with numbers to sort them into some sort of semblance of preference or importance. Anyway, who listens to lists nowadays? They’re all written on your phone.
I am often guilty of pleonasms, however. They are the use of more words than needed to express something -over-explaining it in other words. Or worse, my repeating something but using different words because the person I was talking to had just yawned, or walked away. I think it’s mainly a political thing nowadays though: explain a message often enough and it becomes a truth.
But they seldom resort to aposiopesis as a rule… that’s where the speaker suddenly stops speaking… for emphasis maybe. I mean, there may be some other advantage to suddenly going silent… like maybe when you realize you’ve said something really stupid… or perhaps lost your place in the notes you were reading from- but by and large that loses an audience. Unless, of course, you’re actually finished… But are politicians ever really finished as long as there are politicians? (That’s epanalepsis -I had to look it up).
Anyway, we should be able to tell when they’re finished -a speech is supposed to end with a peroration if they knew what they were doing… unless they were about to inflict a diacope, I suppose…
Look it up, though. Your turn to look it up… eh?